Today we’re going to look into the best things to do in Chattanooga. It’s a very popular tourist destination that provides endless attractions all year round.
Chattanooga is one of the beautiful cities located in the heart of Hamilton County.
Its numerous downtown attractions are scattered around a beautifully paved river walk. Let’s not forget the mountains, falls, caves, and the railroad museum that are an archive of bitter-sweet American history.
There are hundreds of things to do and see in Chattanooga. However, this top 11 list will help you set your priorities right as a first-time visitor.
11 Top Things to Do in Chattanooga TN: Top-Rated Attractions and Sites
If you like history, then Lookout Mountain is the first place you would want to visit. Its combination of nature with military history always attracts tourists from around the world.
Lookout Mountain is one of the sites where the 1863 Battle of Lookout Moutain took place. There’s a lot of educational content you’ll find as you journey up and around the mountain.
Although it was the Chickamauga Cherokee people who originally settled there, the Americans took possession of the area after the revolutionary war. From the top of the mountain, you can enjoy the beautiful scenery of downtown Chattanooga.
The mountain is quite steep, and depending on your level of fitness you can decide to walk up or drive up.
Aside from history, other things you can enjoy while visiting the mountain are the waterfall, cavern, and the swinging bridge for kids.
Although the mountain is incredible during the day, it’s possibly even more beautiful at night when all the lights are on.
The mountain is only a walking distance from the beautiful Rock City Gardens and a short drive from Naughty Cat Café which we’ll talk about later.
You should book your tour ahead of time so it won’t affect your other plans.
Raccoon Mountain Caverns
Raccoon Mountain Caverns are a great way to get a cave experience in Chattanooga, and is one of the “must do” things in the area.
You can discover different beautiful rock and mineral formations, see some wildlife, and learn about the cave system. Apart from this, locals love the place and make it a point to visit now and then – especially during festive seasons.
The Caverns were discovered in 1929 by local cavers. Soon after, it became a popular place for local farmers to escape the summer heat: the farmers used to gather around in front of the cracks in the base of the mountain to catch the cold air escaping through the cracks.
Raccoon Mountain Caverns are very close to downtown Chattanooga. If you’re visiting for the first time, you won’t have a hard time finding your way there.
The Caverns are surrounded by other tourist attractions: Point Park Visitor Center of the Lookout Mountain and the natural rock formations of the Rock City Gardens are just a short drive away.
The Caverns are usually not too busy, so you can generally feel like you’re getting quite a personalized tour from your tour guide.
If you are going to visit the Caverns around lunch or dinner time, there are top-notch restaurants nearby.
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is another destination with historical significance and one of the top attractions in Chattanooga.
Tennessee railroads played an important role in the American civil war. The railroads helped Tennessee to develop a strong industry and helped the state’s economy.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum offers you a glimpse into the past. You get to see how the trains looked in the past centuries.
You can also take a ride on some of the trains to experience what it would have been like for people who used those trains.
There’s always a tour guide who takes you through every vital piece of information about the trains, railroads, and their history.
The scenery around the museum is peaceful and attractive. It is one of the historical sites where you can enjoy some time with your family.
The museum is not far from the Tennessee Riverpark, where you can go for a stroll along the river.
Creative Discovery Museum
If your vacation in Chattanooga involves your kids, this is one place you shouldn’t miss. Add it to your list of things to do in Chattanooga TN because your kids are going to love it.
The Creative Discovery Museum exploits the curious and adventurous nature of children to give them a mind-blowing experience. Adults will enjoy it as well.
The Creative Discovery Museum is the 7th top-rated children’s museum in the United States (according to Trekaroo rankings).
At the museum, your kids can explore the world of art, music, and science. There’s water play, dinosaur digging, creative space, and other interesting activities.
There are exhibits for children of all ages. While older kids will enjoy role-playing and building workshops, the younger kids can experience painting and music.
The Museum provides an opportunity for children to have fun while learning under strict supervision.
The Museum is open to the public every day 10am – 5pm. You can buy tickets online from the Museum website.
The Museum is located in downtown Chattanooga. It’s also very close to the Visitor’s center where you can get all necessary information about Chattanooga that will help you during your visit.
Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery
In 1910, Tennessee banned all whiskey as part of the prohibition movement sweeping across the US in the early 20th century. Tennessee would remain dry until 1939, six years after the Federal ban was lifted.
Luckily, the whiskey industry bounced back and Tennessee is now home to many fine distilleries. At the Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery, you can taste the good old Tennessee whiskeys, and learn the history of Chattanooga Whiskey.
The Distillery opened in 2011 and their mission is to bring back the local whiskey to the world. When they opened in 2011, they were the first Chattanooga distillery to open in over 100 years.
At the time of writing, the tour price is $14.50 and the tour takes approximately 1 hour. It’s only available to persons over 21 years of age. During the tour, you will see the distillery which currently has over 100 maturing whiskey barrels.
The secrets of the whiskey production process will also be revealed to you first-hand. And the best part? Everyone gets to taste the whiskey.
Go for a taste, learn about the history, and you just might return home with a few bottles of high-quality whiskey. However, you do need to book your tour beforehand as the tours can get booked out.
Naughty Cat Café
If you’re on a vacation with your kids, this is another place you want to add to your list of things to do in Chattanooga.
Your kids will love this place. Naughty Cat Café offers a relaxing atmosphere where you and your kids can mingle and pet overly cute cats.
If you’ve been looking to adopt a cat, you can adopt healthy, friendly cats right there as well.
Naughty Cat Café is just a 6-minute drive from the Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery. It’s a win-win – you get to have fun at the distillery, then take the kids down to the Naughty Cat Cafe so they can enjoy themselves afterwards.
Walnut Street Bridge
When was the last time you were on a nice long bridge with a stunning view? There’s always something special walking over a bridge and enjoying water views from it.
The Walnut Street Bridge is one of those historical bridges that become more beautiful and more appealing as they age.
It’s great and clean, and perfect for walking with your family or friends. From the bridge, you can get a really good view of the city.
The bridge is close to the Chattanooga Riverwalk (see next section), and The Passage (a popular pedestrian walk that links downtown Chattanooga to the Tennessee River).
Don’t leave Chattanooga without taking the Riverwalk. It’s impossible to miss – most tourists discover the Chattanooga Riverwalk on the first day of their vacation as it is close to the city’s best hotels and restaurants.
It’s also close to other tourist attractions like the Walnut Street Bridge. Staying in a hotel near the Riverwalk is potentially a good idea, because you will be very central to most things that Chattanooga offers.
Whether it’s morning jogs or evening strolls after an adventurous day, the Riverwalk has it all.
You might also want to bring your bicycle. The Riverwalk is a great place for biking.
You can see sculpture parks, the Trail of Tears, and other attractions right from the Riverwalk. Just at the end of the walk, there is a beautiful park on the riverfront.
Tennessee Riverpark is a lovely place to connect with nature. The park is a popular destination in Chattanooga, especially in summer.
There are a few ways to explore this beautiful park. One of them is by trying some of their famous walking trails which you can check out on their official website.
You can also rent a bike to explore the surroundings and enjoy the wildlife.
If you prefer to relax, soak up on the river views while having a picnic.
Park amenities include bike rentals, fishing piers, kayak launches, BBQ facilities, toilets and picnic areas.
While you are there, check out the Chickamauga Dam. There are walking and bike trails in the area as well as fishing piers and a boat ramp.
Bluff View Art District
The Bluff View Art District is a buzzing part of town. The District is situated over 1.5 city blocks and is owned by a family. It’s a really happening area – there are plazas, gardens, coffee shops, cafes, restaurants, and more!
You can visit it at night, as there are lots of bars and restaurants in the area. It’s beautiful during the day too – you can grab a high-quality coffee, or visit multiple gardens and art galleries.
Some of the must-visit places in the District include:
- Rembrandt’s Roasting Company – this is a coffee specialty shop. They roast their own premium coffee, and they pride themselves on providing “Chattanooga’s smoothest, most flavorful coffee”
- A popular gallery to visit is the River Gallery Sculpture Garden. It is absolutely stunning, you will enjoy the sculptures as you walk by the Tennessee River!
- Tony’s Pasta Shop and Pizzeria serves delicious food with homemade sauces, pasta made by hand from scratch, all with a fun, family atmosphere
Last but not least the Bluff View Art District is located above stone cliffs, so you can soak up the amazing views of the Walnut Street Bridge, Tennessee River and Chattanooga downtown.
See Stunning Waterfalls
Chattanooga is surrounded by beautiful nature. One of the most popular features of the area is the abundance of waterfalls.
The falls range in size and height from just a few feet to monstrous heights such as the massive Falls Creek Falls where the water drops 250 feet.
If you feel like exploring the waterfalls, you can also tack on a hike, as most of the waterfalls in the area are surrounded by pristine forests and parks.
You can see a comprehensive guide to the local waterfalls on the TravelCroc website.
Over To You – What Will You Do in Chattanooga?
There are lots of ways to enjoy your visit to Chattanooga. Hope you got some ideas from our post about various things to do in Chattanooga to get maximum enjoyment out of your stay.
Chattanooga offers great opportunities to explore the city by foot, by car, by bike, or through a tour company.
No matter what you decide to do, you’re virtually guaranteed to enjoy yourself and leave with great memories of your time in Chattanooga.
About the author:
This post was contributed by Lorena Maia. Lorena was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Since then, she has lived in several countries in Europe, traveled to the United States and Asia. At the moment she lives in Sydney, Australia. She loves traveling and she started her blog to share her travel experiences with others.
Photo sources: Shutterstock, provided by Lorena – exception: Chattanooga Creative Discovery Museum – a public domain photo from Wikimedia